Gerald Young walked onto a wet Jack Sink Field at Myers Park last week. An afternoon thunderstorm had soaked the ground and threatened to postpone an American Legion playoff baseball game between Lincoln County and the Queen City Mustangs.
"Gerald!" yelled several players in extra-thick Southern accents ("Jerrl!") from the Queen City dugout. "Dry the field for us!"
Young, wearing burgundy Mustangs shirt and hat and black pants held up by suspenders, shuffled toward the dugout, head down, chuckling.
Young, 68, may not have been able to dry the field for play that night, but if it wasn't for him, the Mustangs wouldn't have been playing this season.
"There would not be Legion baseball in this area - Post 262 or Queen City - if it were not for Gerald," said Mustangs coach Greg Clewis, who has worked with Young for 12 years. "He's taken this as his own personal mission. This is like his church."
Post 262 had sponsored a Legion team for at least 40 years, said Young, who is the financial officer for the Legion. Each year, the post spent $7,000-$8,000 to sponsor a team, he said.
In January, due to budget issues, the Legion decided it couldn't field a summer team.
Young, retired from the U.S. Postal Service, wasn't just going to let the team fold. Though he played only pickup games growing up, Young watched Legion ball as a teenager in Charlotte. He drifted from the sport for several years but started coming to games again in 1983, when Post 262 made it to the state championship, losing to Hamlet.
He kept going back to Post 262 games the next couple years, and in 1985, Young, who served two years in the Army after being drafted into the Vietnam War, joined the post.
"The reason I joined that post was they had a baseball club," he said. "I was on what was called the baseball committee."
Young helped the team by collecting money at the gates and operating the scoreboard. Late in 1991, Post 262 athletic director Coyte Williams died. Young took over as the AD during the 1992 season and has held the position for almost 20 years.
When Post 262 decided not to sponsor a team, Young quickly incorporated the Queen City Mustangs.
"It didn't surprise me either way, that they weren't (going to sponsor a team) and he was," said Clewis. "He's just that committed to doing it, and this has kind of been like his give-back thing, you know, to this area and baseball."
Young put up about $1,500 of his own to pay for insurance, baseballs, umpire booking fees and other costs to start the team. Players' parents helped by donating about $400 a player, totaling $7,500-$8,000.
In May, the Mustangs took the field for their first game against Mint Hill Army, winning 9-1.
"I love baseball and I love American Legion baseball especially, because to me it's a lot of fun coming out and working with these young guys," said Young. "To me, American Legion baseball is the major leagues of youth baseball in America."
Young is at almost every Mustangs game. At home games he can be found at a small table, collecting money at the gate. After games, you can find him on the field talking with coaches and players.
"The best part is just enjoying Gerald's passion for American Legion baseball and the opportunity he gives kids and the relationship, particularly over the last five years, with the players," said Clewis.
The Mustangs, the No. 2 Eastern seed in the Area IV playoffs, were in a second-round series against Lincoln County last week, leading the series 2-0 before Friday's game. The players and coaches know that without Young there would be no team.
Young says the financial situation at Post 262 hasn't gotten any better and he doesn't expect them to sponsor the team again next year. But if he has anything to do with it, the Mustangs will play again.
In the summer, you can find Young on the ball field almost every night.
If he's not there, Clewis has a pretty good idea where he is.
"Gerald loves baseball second-best of anything in the world," said Clewis.
"His first love is Charlotte Cafe and its special."